Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (February 2011) - Day Three

The God Hater, by Bill Myers.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour.

The success of the ‘project’ that Travis, Rebecca, and Hugh are involved in stands or falls on the preservation of free will. Whatever goes into the making of that world, or into a solution that addresses a problem, it must not influence the choice that a cyber-human may personally make and, by extension, what the collective community may agree to do.

It is curious that no one ever deduced that, given such a definition of free will, the programmer violated it with the first If..Then statement. A computer program of any complexity will have what are called conditional statements, that is, if a condition proves to be true then one course of action will follow; but if it is false, another course. It is decision-making at a very low level. Given the same set of information and conditions, a computer program will do exactly the same thing every time, without fail. It has no other choice because it has no mind of its own.

The cyber-world of Alpha at its innermost being is a complex of rote execution making every aspect of it a slave of unalterable habit. Yet, out of this rose characters who attained “emotions, pattern recognition, free will, the ability to hold contradictory views.” (p 45) Granted, they did not rise by a cyber-evolutionary mechanism; Travis says outright that he created them. But it is uncanny that such a versatile, intelligent, and freethinking cyber-entity could possibly come into being out of a make-up that is thoroughly bound to the will of another, regardless of how intelligent the ‘other’ is.

What exactly is free will? Must there be absolutely no outside influence in order for a decision to classify as having been made purely out of a free will? If that were so, there would be no such thing as free will.

A choice made out of free will does not mean it is a choice made blindly. My son may be considering three colleges to attend, and I may have a strong opinion about a certain one, offering argument after argument as to why that should be his choice. Even if those arguments prove effective, and my son chooses that college, his free will has not been violated. He freely chooses that college because, for whatever reason, that is the school that he wants to attend. It is his choice. I did not make the choice for him. Even if I threatened to disown him if he chose another, and as a result he chose contrary to what he would prefer, he is still exercising the choice freely. No one else is making the decision; it is his and his alone.

That’s why Adam’s deflection of blame to Eve is disingenuous, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate," Genesis 3:12. External influences did not absolve Adam’s guilt - he made the choice to listen to Eve and eat of the fruit. The same thing can be said for Eve - she listened to the serpent, was deceived by him, but it was her choice to eat in disobedience to what God had said. The serpent was unable to force Adam or Eve to eat against their will. It had to be the choice of each alone. Otherwise, they would not have been accountable, and man would not have fallen.

How heinous it is then, when we read of the King of Tyre (Lucifer/Satan): “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” Ezekiel 28:15. A being made perfect in every way and having nothing but the most advantageous external influences was found at a point in time to have iniquity within. Unfathomable mystery. No wonder there is no purpose of God for his recovery.

So then, free will does not exclude external influences.

Free will and the Sinner

The scriptures say that there is none who does good (Romans 3:12) and that the carnal mind (the mind devoid of the Spirit of God and therefore unregenerate and unconverted) “is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be,” Romans 8:7; and “those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” Romans 8:8.

If the sinner is unable to do good, then he has not the free will to do good. But he does have the free will to do evil. He can only sin, and the choice to sin and the manner of sin is out of his own free will. No one forces the sinner to sin; he does so freely of his own choice and not of another.

Free will and the Saint

The saint is truly free, that is, he has the ability to choose good and resist evil. As a sinner, one can only sin; as a saint, one has a choice, to resist the temptation to sin, and do the good; or to succumb to temptation, and do the wrong.

The Cyber-Incarnation

There may be some mystery about the transfer of Nicholas’s personality into a newly created cyber-human, but the mystery is only that of a limited understanding of what and how nanobots work. And when all is said and done, the real Nicholas is still a real human, and nothing of him or in him is united to the digital Nicholas.

The mystery of the incarnation of the Son is not resolved through a keen knowledge of physics. The union of God and man in one person defies explanation; it is comprehensible in that one can conceive of a unity of the divine and human, but it is incomprehensible in that the unity itself is inexplicable.

The apparently supernatural power that the digital Nicholas exercised was ad hoc, programmed to meet an unexpected exigency in the cyber-world. The power of the incarnate Christ was for the most part not his own as the Second Person of the Trinity. Part of the humility of the incarnation was the reliance upon God the Holy Spirit to perform miraculous works, just as any human miracle worker of God did. The Spirit’s attendance of Christ is well documented, and because Christ's extraordinary works of power had its source in the Holy Spirit (not his own), the accusation of the Jewish leaders that Christ performed his wonders by the power of Satan was an unforgiveable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The transfer of information to the cyber Nicholas explains his apparently instant knowledge about events and persons whom he had never met. In the New Testament, we have a peek into the nature of the communication between the Father and the Son. In John 12:28, Christ asks the Father to glorify his name, to which the Father responds audibly, in a voice some took for thunder, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Jesus explains that the voice was for their (the people who heard the voice) sakes. On that one occasion, it pleased the Father that others heard what Christ heard constantly.

The God Hater confronts the reader with some heavy philosophical and theological ideas. Whether these would be a challenge to the Atheist's faith, I'm not sure. But it may cause him to pause and think about some things that he never thought about before, and that could be the starting point of a journey to understanding.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (February 2011) - Day Two

The God Hater, by Bill Myers.

Mr. Myers lays out a disclaimer in his author’s note: Then there’s that whole pesky issue of allegories. They only capture pieces of truth and are way too slippery to do much more. So, just as I would encourage you not to base your science upon this [the novel’s] science, the same should go for your theology. As I said in my novel Eli...if something doesn’t sound right or sticks in your throat, don’t waste your time reading this. Go to the original Source and see what it says.

This statement implies two things: that (a) at least some of the theology behind The God Hater may be wrong or (b) though it is not wrong, it is either confusing or contrary to the reader’s own views, in which case the reader is advised to go to the Bible and investigate the point of disagreement or confusion.

This brings us face-to-face with the constant concern of every Christian writer, that he conveys accurately the teaching of scripture on any given theological subject. Granted, there are theological truths that are difficult to understand, as Peter reveals about some of Paul’s epistles (2 Peter 3:16). And since we are not inspired writers in the same way that the holy apostles and prophets of the New Testament were (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21), we cannot guarantee that what we write is completely accurate.

Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to be as accurate and faithful to the truth of scripture as possible. If we find that we have difficulty in conveying that truth in the context of our novel, or through the imagery of its characters and events as in the genre Christian fantasy, it is better to abandon the effort and pursue something different.

A major difficulty for me is the employment of a Christ figure. Donita K. Paul’s Paladin of Dragonspell is an example. I found the character Paladin repulsive. The New Testament Christ was the one who declared (exegeted) the Father in all of his ways such that even a facial expression was revelatory, let alone body language. Paladin was a buddy-buddy type of fellow having none of the sacred sobriety of the biblical Christ. It is a questionable decision to include such a figure because it runs the risk of not conveying the character of God accurately; it tends to create a god in our image. It approaches blasphemy. A more extreme example is The Shack (Wm. Paul Young, a million-copy best seller), in which the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are fleshed out in terms of trite, crass behavior and profane human interactions, and the theology, in my estimation, is heretical blasphemy.

I want to trace broadly the events that take place in The God Hater from initial creation of a cyber-world to the intrusion into that world in the form of a cyber-incarnation. This is to provide a context for some thoughts on certain theological points that are affected by those events. Those thoughts will appear in my third post for this blog tour.

The cyber-world (c-world) is initially characterized by artificially intelligent cyber-humans (c-humans) capable of emotions, pattern recognition, free will, and holding contradictory views (p. 45). There must be no external interference. The free will of the c-human cannot be violated. Each philosophical system must grow organically from within the system (p. 67). This reduces to a survival-of-the-fittest mentality and as a result, c-world ends in self-extinction; c-humans kill each other off in the effort to survive (p 66).

Solution #1
Introduce dualism, the awareness that there is the material/physical on the one hand and the spiritual/metaphysical on the other. In Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie’s words, it is “the understanding that there are higher thoughts with higher standards than a simple materialistic world.” And, “It’s a belief in a greater good without the tyranny of a meddling dictator.” Travis’s lay interpretation is, “Just give them a sense of a greater reality.” Rebecca’s enhancement to Travis’s understanding is to give them “an interconnectedness to that Reality. They need to feel that what they do affects everything-- including themselves.” (pp 80, 81).

Solution #1 Fails
Exercising free will, c-humanity chooses nature over technology, i.e., nature is sacred and must not be meddled with. Travis astutely summarizes the three possibilities with regard to nature: (a) It is divine, (b) there is no difference between it and c-humanity, or (c) it is not real. Whatever view one takes, there is no compelling need to exercise authority over it (p. 97). As a result, rats are allowed to run wild leading to rampant disease, which results in the eventual extinction of c-humanity.

Solution #2
Rebecca postulates that the c-humans must not only be told about another reality (our world) but also about the humans of that world, about us, and that we have the answers for their survival. This is not considered cheating because it is telling the truth. Nicholas Mackenzie, the atheist philosopher, grudgingly acknowledges this inwardly:

“Nicholas’s jaw tightened. She was right, of course. The solution couldn’t be more obvious. At least now. And he hated it. He hated every aspect of it. An outside intelligence, a god, offering them assistance from outside their model. But it was true. They were watching and they could assist. Like it or not, that was the whole truth. And if Nicholas stood for anything, it was truth. Everything else was just fantasy and make-believe.” (p 100)
Again, free will must be preserved. Just inform c-humanity of our existence and give simple guidelines, nothing more (p 103).

The Implementation of Solution #2
Through Travis’s ingenious programming, Nicholas is able to speak directly to Alpha, a c-human (the cyber equivalent of Nicholas’s son who was killed years earlier) and thusly reveals his existence as Programmer, who programmed Alpha’s world. The immediate response of Alpha was to ask, “What do you want?” Programmer’s (Nicholas’s) reply is to exercise authority over his world. Alpha is sacred because he was programmed like real humans. The rats are not sacred; they are the cause of their dying. Alpha’s response to this revelation and charge is to react violently toward the rats and destroy them. Alpha is further charged to treat other c-humans as sacred, treat them as he would treat Programmer. (p 113-115)

The expectation is that Alpha would expound upon the basic rules of Programmer and apply them to various situations. This is exactly what happens. Alpha begins to develop a system of interpretation and application of Programmer’s basic Law. Programmer is elevated to a deity and a temple is erected in his honor.

The Introduction of The Virus
Rebecca places doubt in the mind of the c-woman, Saida, wife of Alpha, to question the authority of Programmer’s law and think of how appealing it would be to decide for herself what is right and wrong. She leads Saida to the back of the Temple where she presents a wealth of information via the internet. Saida and a growing number of others are drawn to this source of unlimited knowledge. Now, c-humanity has an alternate guide, based on an alternate source of knowledge from which they can pick and choose as they please. Programmer’s Law is no longer absolutely authoritative.

The Need for Personal Intervention, the Cyber-Incarnation
The virus infected c-humanity internally, in their minds. To erase it would be to interfere with their thinking and therefore with their free-will. The alternative is that someone speaks to them directly, that is:

“We create another member of their community. We download one of our own personalities into it so we can talk to them face-to-face; show them how they’re supposed to live.”

“You’re not serious?”

“Sure. That way, they still have free will. But instead of laying a bunch more rules on them, our guy talks to them in person. He stresses how important it is to resist the virus and follow our instructions. And--this is the kicker--he shows them how to live those instructions the way we originally intended.”
“It’s impossible to adequately capture every nuance of truth with words. To convey the truths of life...you have to live that life.” (p 143-144)

Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie’s mind is recorded (via nanobots) and transferred into a newly created c-human. The c-human is the cyber-incarnation of Mackenzie.

The Nature of the Cyber-Incarnation

(1) Otherworldly insight. c-Mackenzie receives instant information about his world and certain individuals in it. He learns of personal things about his fellow c-humans that are known only to them. He knows what is in c-man:

Travis continued, “She ran away when they tried making her pay on the Grid. Ever since, she’s been living with whoever gives her life units.”

Nicholas motioned to the main screen, where the image of himself and the girl were still frozen. “Go ahead and tell him that. Let him know.”

This time Travis gave no argument as he worked the keys. “Transferring her bio to him now.”

When he’d finished, he hit another key, bringing the original scene back to life.
Nicholas blinked. With his sudden information, he addressed the girl. “You were just a child, Dortha. It was not your fault.”

Her eyes widened, then squinted suspiciously. “How do you know me?” (p 172)

(2) Otherworldly power. c-Mackenzie receives the ability to heal from Travis who programs it into his cyber makeup. But to heal, the pain of the injury must be transferred somewhere else in order to keep the integrity of the program. It can’t be transferred to a rock, because the rock can’t feel the pain. It can’t be transferred to the one who inflicted the pain because it would coerce them into obeying out of fear and destroy their free will. The only solution is to transfer it to the one who heals, to c-Mackenzie himself. But in order for it to be fair to c-Mackenzie, it must be voluntary; he must be made aware of the suffering it will cause him, and he must freely choose to take the suffering on himself. (p 195)

Free will is a recurrent them in this overview, and I would like to discuss it in my next post. Additionally, I would like to comment on the nature of the cyber-incarnation as opposed to the biblical incarnation.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour (February 2011) - Day One.

The God Hater, by Bill Myers.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster who kindly provided a copy of the book for review on the CSFF blog tour.

Artificial intelligence is the pursuit of both fantasy and science. The God Hater by Bill Myers, is a literary effort of the former, whose purpose is to bring salient truths to light regarding the nature and character of man, human free will, and the existence of God.

The story begins with a locally televised show called God Talk where one of the main characters of the novel first appears, Dr Nicholas Mackenzie, atheist and professor of philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He proceeds to embarrass and demolish another guest, a pastor of a large church who is on the show to talk about his new book. Mackenzie argues the well-worn favorite objections of atheism to religion. Interestingly, those objections are briefly addressed later in the book, not by a Christian, but a former student whose faith was destroyed by Mackenzie himself.

Another main character is Dr Annie Brooks who teaches Molecular Biology and is a fellow professor at UCSB. Annie is a Christian, albeit a single mother. Annie and Nicholas are actually friends though their antithetical world and life views clash from time to time in the classroom. Nicholas visits Annie periodically having a special interest in her son, Rusty, having lost his own son years earlier.

The third personality is Travis (Nicholas’s brother) who becomes involved in a research project funded by a ‘bazillionaire,’ as Travis describes him. The project succeeds in creating a computer program akin to today’s games but in which the cyber-characters are far more advanced having “artificial intelligence...emotions, pattern recognition, free will, the ability to hold contradictory views,” (p. 41) and so on. The purpose of the project is to provide industry with a test environment to determine what to expect from the consumer, i.e., how will a certain product fare.

The project runs into its problems early on. Cyber-mankind knows only of the basic premise, survival of the fittest, which is exercised consistently always resulting in self-extermination. With no intervention allowed by the developers, and with no other input, the cyber-humans always destroy themselves. Travis brings his philosopher brother in to resolve the problem. The single restriction: there must be no violation of the cyber-humans' free will.

To get beyond this, Nicholas offers the solution to make the cyber-humans aware of a greater reality, introducing brute dualism, the view that there are two realities, the physical and metaphysical. This doesn’t violate the cyber-human’s free will, it simply makes them aware of non-physical realities and it is to be their choice alone as to how to live in light of it. Nicholas is convinced this will change the pattern of self-extinction.

This fails also, and Nicholas is called in again. The problem is that the cyber-world chooses to hold ‘nature’ in highest esteem and therefore allows it to carry on without intrusion. This leads to the spread of disease through rats who run free. Eventually, cyber-mankind dies out through pestilence.

Nicholas ponders the problem and comes up with a solution that he’s not entirely comfortable with: make cyber-humanity aware of a higher authority, the authority of Programmer (Nicholas, though he is not actually the programmer), who in turn charges the cyber-humans to take control and become stewards of their own world. The rationale: they, the cyber-humans, are more sacred than the world (nature) itself; they must exercise authority over it.

This too has its problems and the solutions that follow come uncomfortably closer and closer to a theistic view, so much so that eventually one from Programmer’s world enters into the world in cyber-incarnated form. The incarnate personality is none less than Dr Mackenzie himself.

Interwoven into this is corporate espionage and betrayal, and the intriguing factor that the key cyber-human is Mackenzie’s own lost son who becomes the authoritative interpreter and applier of Programmer’s decree.

Non-Christian and Christian philosophy constantly clash, though the language used to express this is dubiously similar to biblical language. The incredulity of the language is especially stark as it is used by non-Christian characters (e.g., “You are sacred because you are programmed to be like us”;  “Treat one another as though you are sacred. Treat one another as you would treat me.”)

The novel presents the reader with a number of profound philosophical issues with the intent to demonstrate that the resolution of those issues is found only through a Christian, biblical approach. Yet this is done in such a non-technical way that the average reader, with some effort, can readily sort them out.

The story itself makes the book a fair page-turner. This in spite of the characters being stereotypical and predictable, and the writing itself, average.